Historical Revaluations: The Boundary Books of the Matale District

Gananath Obeyesekere: Historical Revaluations: the Boundary Books of the Matale district[1], being  Chapter 19 in Professor KD Paranavitana Felicitation Volume, edited by Vinie Vitharana & Prasad Fonseka, Colombo, Godage & Bros (pvt ltd) …. ISBN 978-955-30-9035-5

Professor K. D. Paranavitana has not only written important work on t, edit by Vinnie Vitharane Dutch Period in Sri Lanka that has influenced my own writing but he also has been also associated with the National Archives. These archives as well as those in Europe, such as the British Library are replete with popular Sinhala texts that constitute an enormous resource for understanding the pasts of our nation. The term vitti pot or “books of events” is a useful term to broadly characterize this genre of literature.  Among these vitti pot are various boundary books (kaḍaim pot), some dealing with the boundaries of the nation, some with specific regions and some on family genealogies (banḍāravaliya).

Quite unlike the classical histories such as the various volumes of the Mahāvaṃsa, these kaḍaim pot or “boundary books” have not been characterized with one might label as a “chronological imperative” or a preoccupation with actual dates of kings and other important events that we associate with the Mahāvaṃsa and the later chronicle of kings such as the multiple versions of the Rājāvaliya. We are fortunate in having some of these texts edited and translated by H. A. P. Abeyawardana but very little has been done following his pioneer work Boundary Divisions of Mediaeval Sri Lanka published in a Sinhala edition and in an important English translation.[2]

In his work and those of others we have accounts of the “boundaries of the land of Sri Lanka” or the “boundaries of the Sinhala-land” but there is little uniformity in these descriptive histories, posing a challenge for historians regarding the difficulties of interpretation.  In spite of this limitation one feature of these national boundary books is however clear:  there is a sense of Lanka as a definable entity or a topography in which places and districts are demarcated. Following this tradition, I want to focus on two interrelated boundary books of the district of Matale that, in my view, have an empirical component that helps us to analyze them in terms of contemporary historical criticism.  The few chronological information they give us are unreliable but not so with the information on the periods in which these texts were written.  We can give both boundary books the same title, namely the Boundary Book of Matale, 1 and 2, for the very good reason that the second boundary book recognizes the existence of the first and adopts a similar model of representation of contemporary events.  For purposes of convenience we will impose on both the same title, Mātale Kaḍaimpota (“the boundary book of Matale”), the first composed during the reign of King Vijayapala of Matale, the brother of one of the great kings of this period, Rajasinha II (1635-1687) and the other about a hundred years later in the time of Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782).[3]  These manuscripts titles are not recorded in any of the texts that we have but seem to have been imposed by either modern libraries or by collections of palm leaf manuscripts and then given a name.  This seems to us a reasonable interpolation because we know that in both sets of boundary books the king asks a similar question from his consultant or consultants, namely, information on the denizens of Matale. In the first Mātale Kaḍaimpota it is King Vijayapala of Matale who wants this information and in the second it is Kirti Sri Rajasinha. The first boundary book has been edited and published by our learned scholar Abeyawardana. We have three versions of the second boundary book, two of them from the National Archives in Colombo, already edited and published by us and for convenience labeled as the Illukkumbura version, from the name of a village in Laggala where these versions were last copied, namely March 11, 1906.[4] Our third and unpublished version is an old palm leaf manuscript and belonging to the washerman caste in the Matale district, Mr. H. G. Rana, that he gifted to us. Because all three versions are strikingly similar we will for present purposes simply refer to them collectively as Matale Boundary Book 2 (or simply M2) to distinguish it from the earlier Abeyawardana edition, M1.  Note that M1 and M2 only refer to lay-folk and neither monks nor viharas are mentioned, clearly making a distinction between worldly (laukika) and other-worldly (lokottara) matters.


To briefly understand the complicated history of the period of M1 we should begin with the first consecrated king of Kandy Vimaladharmasuriya married to the Catholic queen Dona Catherina from who he bore two sons and one daughter. After his death in 1604, his close patrilineal relation Senerat (1605-1635) also married Dona Catherina from whom she had a son later to become Rajasinha II. Even though they still were minors Senerat distributed the kingdom among his three heirs as early as 1621, the large district of Uva to the eldest Kumarasinha, the key kingdom of Kandy to his own biological son Rajasinha (Maha Astana) and the third kingdom of Matale to Vijayapala, the second son of Vimaladharmasuriya.[5] Both Kumarasinha and Vijayapala married Tamil princesses from Jaffna whereas Rajasinha contracted marriages from the Nāyaka families of Madurai.[6] I want to skip much of the troubled relations between these close kinsmen except to say that when the ruler of Uva died in 1634 that region was eventually appropriated by Rajasinha, not without contestation from his older brother Vijayapala. The first Matale boundary book was written when the two brothers were in relatively good terms, sometime between 1635 (perhaps earlier) when Vijayapala was king of Matale and 1641 when war broke out between the two brothers and Vijayapala fled to Colombo with 2000 of his fighting men and was welcomed by the Captain General Mascerenhas.  From there he moved on to Portuguese Goa in 1643 where he was baptized three years later as Dom Theodosio.  He died in Goa in 1654.[7]

Thereafter, Rajasinha II became the sole ruler of the Kandyan kingdom and also the claimant of the whole Tri Sinhala, even though the Maritime Provinces were under Portuguese and later Dutch rule during his long reign.  What is troubling about Sri Lankan history is a refusal to recognize that the two deceased sons of Vimaladharmasuriya were rulers, probably consecrated as kings, in their own respective kingdoms of Uva and Godapola-Matale although oft-times eliminated from the historical record and instead Rajasinha placed as the sole heir of the Kandyan kingdom after the death of Senerat in 1635. This is a falsification of history.  Kumarasinha of Uva died or was murdered by Senerat in 1634 but not Vijayapala who was the sovereign king of Matale. One must also remember that all three brothers participated in the grand victory over the Portuguese in the battle of Randenivela in 1630 when the Portuguese general Constantine de Sa and his armies were routed and the general himself killed.  In spite of the ups and downs of their relationship we know that Vijayapala joined his brother in the other famed battle of Gonnoruva in 1638 where the combined forces of the two brothers Rajasinha and Vijayapala once again defeated the Portuguese and almost all of the Portuguese army, including Javanese and Sinhala mercenaries were annihilated.[8] According to M1 Vijayapala had a key role in unifying the Matale district, redrawing and extending its territory to make that kingdom relatively well organized such that it was ready for the later take over by Rajasinha. Thus M 1 was composed in Viyayapala’s time when the two brothers were in reasonably good terms until the relationship soured and King Vijayapala fled Matale to join the Portuguese at Goa.

The first boundary book of Matale (M1) deals with the noble families in the district whose help was sought by Vijayapala, king of Godapola (Matale), in order to muster an army for his military campaigns.[9] M1 presents a very formal setting where the king is present in his pattirippuva, the Octagon, the well-known eight-sided building representing the eight directions of the universe with the monarch at its center.  He had been engaged in a war with the Hatara Korale (“Four Korales”) in the present day Kegalla district,the old center of the kings of Kotte, now under Portuguese rule which however was waning owing to the threat of Dutch incursions. Perhaps because of the lack of success of his enterprise to enlist the people of the Four Korales, the king now summoned his loyal aide Nayirepola Alahakon Mohottala, and asked him the following question: who are the denizens (minisun jātiya mokunda) in the country of Matale (Mātale-raṭa), presumably to enlist their help in his military campaigns.  “Lord, there are only three [noble] houses in the raṭa of Matale” and when the king asked who they were, Nayirepola responded: “Lord, there is Kulatunga Mudiyanse of Udupihilla, Vanigasekera Mudiyanse of Aluvihara, Candrasekera Mudiyanse of Dumbukola (southwest of Matale town), and also Gamage Vädda and Hampat Vädda of Hulangamuva (Matale South), and no other.” The king wanted to know those who inhabited the lands beyond (epiṭa raṭa), that is, on the northern and southern sides of Matale (Godapola), whereupon the king’s consultant listed a number of villages located on the “on the other side of the steep waters (hela kaňdura) of Biridivela.”I list these villages below and the Vädda chiefs in charge of them or in control of them (hirakaragena)

  1. Kannila Vädda in control of (hira kara hitiya)at Kanangomuva [Matale South]
  2. Herat Banda in control of Nikakotuva [current location unknown]
  3. Maha Tampala Väddaat Palapatvala [Matale North]
  4. Domba Vädda at Dombavela gama [Matale South].
  5. Valli Vädda at Vallivela [location unknown]
  6. Mahakavudalla Vädda at Kavudupalalla [Matale South, Asgiriya Pallesiya Pattu]
  7. Naiyiran Vädda (some texts Nayida)at Narangamuva [either Matale East or South]
  8. Imiya Vädda at Nalanda [well known village, Matale North]
  9. Dippitiya Mahagē (a female) controlling an area of nine gavuvas(“leagues”) in length and breadthin the district known as Nagapattalama [location unknown but not to be confused with the identical name in South India]
  10. Makara Vädda and Konduruva employed in the watch of the boundary (kadaima). [Mountain known as Konduruva in Matale East]
  11. Mahakanda Vädda controlling Kandapalla [today’s Kandapalla Korale. Matale North]
  12. Hempiti Mahagē, a female, controlling Galevela[well known village in Matale North]
  13. Baju Mahagē, a female, controlling the Udasiya Pattuva of Udugoda Korale[Hunnasgiriya range]
  14. Minimutu Mahagē, female, controlling the Pallesiya Pattuva of the same district [a vast area of 56 villagesin Matale East]
  15. Devakirti Mahagē, female, controlling Melpitiya, [Matale North two miles from Nalanda.]

Five of the named Väddas are female chiefs in control of part of the king’s frontier (but we lack information whether they were heads of matrilineal groupings).  Herat Banda in this list has a typical Sinhala name, either anon-Vädda guarding the frontier or more likely a Vädda whose name has a been Sinhalized, a common enough phenomenon.  What is really remarkable about M1 is that outside the three prominent Sinhala aristocrats listed in or near Godapola, are the Väddas guarding the frontier. Naturally, the king wants to know the other denizens of this region that he surely knew existed. It is not that Matale lacked the traditional Kandyan aristocracy but from the king’s viewpoint they cannot be trusted.  Thus, says the text, although these aristocrats “are powerful it is not possible to (order them to) collect men and animals” for the wars envisaged by the king and his brother Rajasinha, especially to capture the Portuguese fort of Trincomalee, one of the stated objectives of M1. Once the king gets rid of the doubtful persons, he then employs several Kandyan chiefs to take their place.

What does the king mean by named Väddas controlling or guarding the frontier? The frontier is full of villages of ordinary Sinhala people who I assume are vulnerable to attack by the Portuguese or by Sinhalas from the areas of Portuguese control such as the Four Korales mentioned by the king himself.  Consequently, these Vädda chiefs have the responsibility of having tight control (hirakaragena) over the villages in their charge.  These would be a large number of villages, or a few strategic ones.  To give a few examples: Palapatvala, Nalanda, Galevela are well-known villages inhabited by Sinhalas of that time and the task of guarding these extensive village areas are the responsibility of three Vädda chiefs, Maha Tampala Vädda, Imiya Vädda and a female chief Hempiti Mahage.  Some of these areas under Vädda control are pretty extensive, for example, a vast area of Pallesiya Pattu in Matale East with fifty-six villages are in charge of another female Minimutu Mahage. In one instance at least we have two Väddas, Makara and Konduruva, guarding a mountain by that name in Udasiya Pattu in Matale East probably as a look-out point.Thus at this time the role of these named Väddas are to guard the many Sinhala (and possibly other Vädda villages) in a larger area. The Sinhala word used to describe Vädda control we noted is hirakaragena, literally meaning “tight control.” I assume that these Vädda chiefs would have their own larger warrior groups to assist them in their task.

In the beginning of M1 we had been given the name of three aristocrats and many Väddas, those whom presumably the king can trust. The king now asks what lies towards the east of the Matale district and was told that it was the Vädi raṭa (the Väddalands) with its chief named Banḍāra Vädda, the term banḍāra being an honorific given to aristocratic Sinhalas but now reemployed to designate a Vädda of high standing. In order to bring the Bandara Vädda within orbit of the Matale district, the king now demarcates a territory that formerly belonged to Tammankada Disavani (Tammankaduva) and another area that originally belonged to huge Nuvarakalaviya-rata. The physical description of these areas are described in great detail and they are hived off, incorporated as part of the Matale disāvani and given over to the Vädda chief who now has a huge territory belonging to him. Although not explicitly stated the king’s strategy is clear enough. He had been dependent on Vädda support but now that support is extended when he is gives a large amount of land to the chief of the Väddas, simply designated at Bandara Vädda. It is clear that the king not only has the support of Vädda chiefs named earlier but one chief in particular is given the label Banḍāra, clearly designating his identity as a member of the Sinhala aristocratic class, albeit still a Vädda. The demarcation of the district has another political purpose: the list of Väddas mentioned in the beginning is now under the control of one of their own chiefs, the Bandara Vädda. What is clear is that King Vijayapala in a strategic move has redrawn the boundaries of the larger provinces of Tamankaduva and Nuvarakalaviya to incorporate the Vädda chief into the district of Matale.

Given this change in the political background the king now creates an entirely new team of Sinhala aristocrats whom he can trust after dismissing the old set. This means that the role of the Väddas listed in M1 will be in effect be temporary. When the king employs radala chiefs in control of the disāvani of Matale, it stands to reason that eventually they and not the Väddas guarding the frontier who will control the Matale region. This of course has been the political tradition in other parts of the Kandyan kingdom where Kandyan chiefs are in charge of the kingdom’s provinces. The exception is the Bandara Vädda whose name suggests that he has already been enlisted as a member of the aristocracy of the disāvani of Matale and provided with extensive lands.  He is in effect the king’s ally in the Vädda country over which he has direct or indirect control.  Nevertheless, what is striking about M1 is that the king’s original loyalists were the three named aristocrats in the area of Godapola itself but the main supporters of the kingto begin withwere the Väddas in charge of the frontier but now with a new aristocratic Vädda chief in overall control and a new set of Sinhala officials, loyalists of the king, after the king had dismissed the old lot.These chiefs are named in M1 and Abeyawardana lists them and their titles.They become major figures in Matale and in the larger Kandyan kingdom.[10]

We know from other sources also that the Väddas were loyal to the kings of Kandy (and to Lankan kings in general) and there is nothing unusual in themany Vädda chiefs commanding frontier outposts (hirakaragena). Note the enormous spread of these Vädda chiefs from the king’s capital at Godapola to the outskirts of today’s Matale district, north and south, some close to his own capital and then to more distant places such as Nalanda and further on to even more distant locations such as Galevela. As mentioned earlier, these Vädda chiefs would have their own larger kin groups who could be enlisted on behalf of the king. Especially fascinating are references to five Vädda female chiefs (mahagē) who like their male counterparts “controlled” (hirakaragena)villages and in two cases extremely large clusters of villages or pattu.  It is clear therefore that these non-Buddhist hunters have been incorporated into the structure of the Matale kingdom and had a key role in its defense, although at some later point the defense of the kingdom would lie with the radala chiefs.[11] Nevertheless, it is certain that kings depended on Vädda support during times of war. M1 also introduces a rare species of female warriors guarding the frontier, an occurrence unheard of or ignored in the orthodox histories of the nation. This loyalty of the Väddas to the king continued until the 1817-1818 rebellion against the British under the jurisdiction of their chief Kivulegedera Mohottala of Valapane that resulted in the decimation of the Vädda communities. We have to take these Vädda lists in M1 seriously, including our female warriors because their identities and areas of control are clearly listed and demarcated. Some of these women appear in M2, a hundred years later but not in their warrior roles that, as we have seen, have become redundant.


If the first Matale Boundary Book (M1) is about the wars conducted by Vijayapala in conjunction with his brother, the second Matale Boundary Book or M 2 is a census of families in the Matale district. From our point of view, it a kind of sociological study, perhaps the first of that genre in the Kandyan kingdom. Unlike M1, M2 has very little reference to war and the mobilization of armies. It is important to bear in mind that the person who actually put down M2 in writing is Hisvalle Punchi Appuhami on the basis of information supplied by the king’s two consultants, Opalgala Vädi Bandara and Kaduvela Rate Rala. It is the latter who give the king a list of persons inhabiting Matale, but it contains a preface obviously composed by Hisvalle and included in M2.  It is Hisvalle who introduces the king Kirti Sri Rajasinha with the statement that “Madurapura is not the birthplace” of the king and then goes on to justify that claim in a seeming contradiction. “King Parakrama married the princess from Madura and since this king (Parakrama) Bahu had no children, kingship passed onto the maternal side in the Island of Lanka.” This is a clear reference to Narendrasinha (also known as Vira Parakrama) who being childless had his wife’s brother Sri Vijaya Rajasinha, a Nayaka born in Sri Lanka placed on the throne. But because Sri Vijaya also had no legitimate heirs, his wife’s brother Kirti Sri became king. Following the same logic, Hisvalle’s preface asserts that Madurai was not his birth place and glorifies the new king as the “meritorious and noble universal king (pinvat utum sakviti raja).”[12]We know of course that the latter assumption is wrong because Kirti Sri was in fact born in Madurai but raised in Sri Lanka in his adolescent years. What then is the source of the seeming error?  I suggest that there was a contentious debategoing on that Kirti Sri was born in Madurai (which is true) but in turn raising questions of his legitimacy among those who tended to judge the king by the standards of the pre-Nayaka kings of Kandy which emphasized the paternal line. Nevertheless, by the standards of Nayaka kinship in Sri Lanka that prevailed after the death of Narendrasinha, Kirti Sri’s right to kinship is not the issue. I assume that power politics rather than matrilineal descent was the name of the game. Because Sri Vijaya was keen to continue the Nayaka family line he had to ensure that his wife’s descendants rather than an aristocrat from a Sinhala family should be king. Hence the choice of the queen’s brother was from Madurai. The queen had a younger brother resident in Lanka but too young to be a consecrated sovereign. M2 has an ingenious solution to Kirti Sri’s legitimacy through matrilineal descent and the denial of his birthplace in Madurai. That invented historical background is surely the work of Hisvalle Punchi Appuhami who put M2 in writing rather than the king’s two consultants. It should also be noted that the last two chapters of the Mahāvaṃsa (aka Cūlavaṃsa) which records in some detail the reign of Kirti Sri also ignores Kirti Sri’s birth-place but simply refers to him as “the ruler of the Sihalas” or “the Sihala ruler.”[13] Nowhere in the Mahāvaṃsa is there any reference to the word “Nayaka” or to “Vaduga” often loosely applied to the Nayakas who were mostly from Andhra Pradesh, hence Vaduga, “northerners.” It is as if the Nayaka origins of Kirti Sri and his wife’s brother Sri Vijaya have been wiped clean from the Cūlavaṃsa.

Thereafter our text follows the conventional pattern where the king asks his consultants the same questions as in M1: “Let me know what kind of jāti live in this Mihitale?” What strikes us immediately is that one of the king’s primary informants is, once again, a Vädda chief of Opalgala while the other informant is a Sinhala official. This particular Vädda chief is obviously a descendant of the person listed as “Vädi Bandara” in M1.  In that text we have seen that the chief’s vast lands were eventually incorporated into the Matale district under the king’s order.

Reading Matale 1, I have the impression of an area that was sparsely populated but by the time of Matale 2, the region becomes much more crowded and arable land has become a scarce commodity. It is impossible to list the two hundred plus families mentioned in this work and therefore, for present purposes, I will focus on groups of people rather than individuals for the most part. Moreover, unlike the first Matale boundary book, M2 reads very much like a census or a rough enumeration of over two hundred individuals as well as heads of households in the Matale district, not a complete or comprehensive one but probably families known to the two chiefly consultants.  Both M1 and especially M2are a corrective to the exaggerated enumeration of villages in the national boundary books such as the various versions of Tri Sinhala Kaḍaim Pota.[14]  M2 in particular has an empirical component that defies the magic of large numbers. Sometimes, M2 has fairly detailed information on a particular family sometimes only the name of the head of the household is given, and at other times not even the name of the village. The following endnote provides a very brief but typical example of what we mean.[15]

.                      M2 anticipates modern empirical historiography in so far as it is an important compendium full of information about castes, both higher and lower; various types of villages; names of recent migrants; and the fate of earlier ones in the region. In several places the so-called lower castes such as lacquer workers and Muslims can be given high caste titles, such as mudiyanse or muhandiram, violating popular stereotyped notions of caste and ethnicity. The descendants of those brought into Sri Lanka by King Gajabahu in both M1 and M2 are given a name, oli, because they were originally from oli raṭa, presumably an alternative term for soli raṭa or the Chola country. M2 adopts a somewhat contemptuous tone regarding the oli: “A huge multitude (bim bara) of oli people who cannot be listed under the eighteen jāti (castes) have been shoved into the district of Dumbara.”[16] They are also referred to as āgantuka or “outsiders” in M2 which means that there were continuing migrants from the Tamil country within the memory of M1 and M2 and they have been incorporated into the Matale district and given a habitation and a name. Hence oli to herald their presence and recognition as outsiders, āgantuka. However, M2 also refers to a high status Oli Banḍāra, an aristocratic oli from times past who had put sand in the king’s store-house and was therefore popularly known as Valisundara, perhaps an insulting and invented reference to an Oli chief because there is no indication whatever that he had been punished for this dereliction of his legitimate duty. There is also no indication in M2 that oli constituted a separate caste unlike their namesakes in the Southern province living in the region near Beliatta and were labeled the “oli caste” and whose traditional ritual profession was that of drummers, dancers or exorcists.[17]  It seems that when outsiders settle down in the Sinhala country they are given this identifying label and in time their antecedents are forgotten. Sri Lankan popular history mentions the mythic history of King Gajabahu and his servant Nilamahayodaya who parted the ocean and rescued twelve thousand Sinhala prisoners captured by the Soli (Chola) king and frightening the latter with his prowess, such as squeezing water from solid rock, he rescued these prisoners, adding twelve thousand Tamils from Chola and settling them down in Sri Lanka. This myth is well-known to Sri Lankans and implicitly referred to in many texts including the present ones.

While M2 is an important text it is not always possible to locate and identify some of the persons listed in that work simply because the two informants of the king took for granted that the people of Matale of that time would be aware of their backgrounds, even if the king did not. It is very likely that once the king is given the lists he would inquire from his two consultants more information that would not appear in M2 as we have them now.  Owing to these limitations it is not possible to deal with the information on the two hundred or so families listed there.  Moreover, this particular essay in honor of Paranavitana entails a severe limitation of space and therefore for present purposes I shall not deal with individual families but rather with a few issues that might to give a reader a feel for the larger context of M2.  Let me remind the reader that names of castes mentioned in this as well as in all traditional works have been accurately listed for convention’s sake and no insult is intended for present day castes bearing in mind the Buddha’s own oft-times reiterated view of the moral and physical equivalence of all castes. Nevertheless, we must also contend with the reality that the Sinhala caste system entailed an interdependent division of labor without which Kandyan caste-based society could not possibly have functioned.

  1. On de-casting: the king alone has the right to “de-caste” someone by designating that person as gattara wherein owing to some offense the king places a person and his family in a lower caste position from his original one or placed in a special caste where his earlier name is effaced and given a new name commensurate with that person’s degraded status. I prefer the term “de-casted” rather than “out-casted” because no one can really be “out-casted” and indeed no such category exists in Sri Lanka. The reason for de-casting is because the king, given his sovereign status is sensitive to pollution from the violation of the court rules and hence these cases in M2, though disturbing, only constitutes a small number.

Fascinating information is given on gattar avillages or villages containing persons who have been deprived of their caste status by the king.  It is not always clear what their offences have been although the details must have been well-known to the public of that time.  An interesting case is in reference to three people of the retainer or service caste of the Goyigama namely Malvatte Maha Duraya, Rankot Duraya and Manik Duraya who are brothers of the same mother (but presumably of different fathers). The first two were obsessed with hatred for each other (krōdayen viňdimi) perhaps for unstated reasons. Seeing that Rankot Duraya was supplying iron to the palace, Malvatte Duraya got enraged (with jealousy) and with the support of his children he secretly got a dead buffalo skinned and tied it on to the bellows of Rankot Duraya (that would have caused pollution and the inefficacy of the latter’s work place.) Once again we are confronted only with implicit details because it seems obvious that Malvatte Duraya is a servant of the Malvatta monastery. Malvatte Duraya’s heinousact was seen by a Henaya or washerman who while returning from the palace during that night after cleansing that place informed the king about it.  The king appraised of the details and having tested Malvatte Duraya gave the following order: “For the offence of keeping the buffalo skin on the bellows and for skinning the buffalo body they were ordered to bury cattle henceforth”and they are to be degraded and known as “geri padda,” geri mas or beef being utterly reprehensible, and padda being a contemptuous term for that particular caste that would normally be addressed and referred to in more respectable terms. In my own memory I have known of persons who use the term geri padda as a term of abuse irrespective of a reference to caste. It seems that the king’s degradation of a caste already low in the status ladder has sent waves of memory long after. Why so? There is implicit knowledge underlying the reference here because it is the lowest of the low, the roḍiya or canḍāla who generally had to bury dead animals and this family is in effect de-casted in the most drastic fashion by being identified as someone akin to a candala or actually de-casted as canḍāla.

All these rules of de-casting occur within the king’s own immediate domain because a consecrated king is especially vulnerable to pollution that might affect his ritual status or his sacred role (or sense of “holiness,” if one might use that term). Such rules or taboos do not operate in the larger world outside the king’s domain. Another example: “Imbulpitiya (near Matale town) has been segregated as a gattara gama (“de-casted village”) for the reason that the road was closed for one week by blocking it with a layer of thorns.” It is impossible to figure out the reasons for the king’s action in this and in related casesbecause public knowledge taken for granted by ordinary people is simply restated in M2 and hence we have to be satisfied with guess-work.  We know that during times of war or rumors thereof roads can be blocked off with “thorn gates.”In this case, the king probably could not enter the road because of the thorn gates, perhaps put there by accident or on the basis of false information. The arrival of a king would be accompanied by great fanfare and should have been known to the person in charge of the thorn gates, and hence from the king’s point of view the offender deserved being de-casted. A clearer but very revealing case is that of a Tamil who, because he had no determinate jāti (meaning caste), was also placed in a gattara village, clearly implying that caste identity constituted the essence of Kandyan “citizenship.” Nevertheless, much of the public knowledge is missing in our account. For example, we really do not know the true reason why, M2 tells us, that the whole village of Imbulpitiya has been de-casted without any reason given for the king’s drastic action.

Another case of people being consigned as gattaraby the king is in reference to two former oli families living in Alutgama (“new village”) and Paranagama (“old village.”) They had dirtied the vegetable gardens by sprinkling cow-dung mixed with water on them. When Pihanarala (lit. the official in charge of cleansing) went to get vegetables for the palace, he saw that vegetable plots had been dirtied and informed the royal court (that is, the king’s officials) about this. Presumably these vegetable would have been offered to the king or the court although this is unsaid.For insulting the king in this manner the two villages Alutgama and Paranagama were degraded as gattara and placed elsewhere (ahakkara), very likely in some remote region. “Henceforth, no aḍukku (cooked food) provisions, pähidum (spiced vegetables) and par-boiled rice should be received (from them).” This means that they cannot send food to the king and very likely to the Palace of the Tooth Relic and the devales. This of course could have been an invented insult by those who resented the oli presence. As with modern enumerations or statistical data much information is taken for granted or invented by biased persons.

The other instance of degrading into gattara rank is more interesting. Kirti Sri Rajasinha, orders four lamps to be kept lit in the four directions of the compass in the karunā eliya (“the light of compassion”) during the night. Whether this light is near his palace or perhaps near the Palace of the Tooth Relic or the king’s pattirippuva or elsewhere is not clear from our text. Apparently the king noted that only two lamps had been lit and under the king’s questioning one group admitted: “Lord who will be future Buddha, we could not attend to the task owing to rising flood water.” This was no excuse and the king ordered that as of this day the village of Gurunepana (Gunnepana?) will be a gattara village.  What about the other group from the village of Napana and why hadn’t they come to perform their duty?  Their excuse that it was too dark was totally inadmissible to the king whose punishment was most severe such that their gattara degradation was inscribed on stone on a rock-face for all to see. It seems therefore that gattara degradation is a highly variable punishment depending on the seriousness of the offence as perceived by the king, sometimes a temporary punishment or a more serious one as in the previous case and that of the person who had skinned a buffalo and polluted his hated kinsman.[18] Food pollution is a serious anywhere but the king is especially susceptible to it and hence purity of the king’s own table is ensured by a special official known as the bat vaḍana rāla, the main supervisor of the kitchen and his dining. Occasionally, one has to assume implicit meanings from an opaque utterance, thus: Sudu-hakurugama has been proclaimed a gattara (village) by inscribing the king’s decision carved on a rock-face. Some serious offense must have been committed for such a radical exclusion. Sudu-hakurugama is a village where “white jaggery” (sudu hakuru) is made, not the cheap brown jaggery easily available. I assume that the white jaggery was meant for the king and had been improperly or badly made or in some way polluted. The offence is unsaid but would have been known to the public of M2.

  1. The Muslim presence. In M2 several Muslims knows as marrakkala ignored in the earlier M1 are listed, some designated as Muhandirams, the title of a high dignitary of the Kandyan kingdom, next in status to Mudiyanse or Mudali, a distinguished Kandyan title that can also be bestowed upon Muslims favored by the king. As with many Sinhala families the name of the Muslim and his village residence is mentioned without any detail. Thus: “Marakkala Mudiyanse is at Marukona (between Dumbukola and Elkaduva).” Better information is supplied in respect of Marakkala Suba, Muslim physician from Akurana who has moved into Gahalagama (a village of gahala or “executioners”) but god knows for what reason! Although Muslim physicians were in high demand in the Kandyan kingdom, especially in the Four Korales, it seems that they were as yet not well represented in the Matale district although nowadays there are large Muslim communities there, especially in Akurana and its outskirts.  Because Kirti Sri Rajasinha had Muslim physicians in his own court and was favorably disposed towards them, it is not likely that the Muslims in Matale were ignored in M1.  Morelikely the influx of Muslims into that region was a later phenomenon. My own guess is that after the 1848 rebellion in Matale, brutally suppressed by Governor Torrington, the colonial powers encouraged the settling of Matale by Muslims, a population friendly towards the British of that time. Nowadays the term for Muslim is marakkala although its earlier meaning of “sea captain” is employed once in reference to Gajabahu who is referred to as Marakkala Gajabahu in M2![19]

And then there is a more problematic one of inter-religious and interethnic marriage between a Muslim and a Sinhala: “A marakkala secretly took a lady of Kodavala Valavuva at Magama (in lower Dumbara) in what must surely have been an elopement.  It was rumored that the couple were planning to visit the woman’s parents with a huge load of goods (lit. häṭa bāna, sixty cattle loads), including kävun and bunches of bananas, coconut, areca-nut, pepper, and betel leaves. The men locked the manor house and hid themselves in the jungle,” looking, as they say in modern English idiom, at a gift-horse in the mouth!  Unfortunately, we are not given the sequel but the next sentence refers to a Marakkala Mudiyanse (Muslim Lord) who perhaps is the same person and illustrates that marriage with a distinguished Muslim was looked askance whereas marriage to a menial Sinhala would be tolerated.  “That very day a vahal (bonded servant) going from place to place served as a provider of leaves (either betel leaves or leaves for the consumption of elephants) to Marakkala Mudiyanse of Ataragalla (about ten miles from Kandy on Katugastota road, Lower Dumbara) and he was therefore named (nicknamed) ‘Kolana Rala’ (leaf gentleman).  This Kolana Rala was skillful in hunting and farming and he called the head of the village cluster (raṭe rāla) ‘uncle’ and was given work.  The Rate’s Rala’s daughter Kalu Manika was given in marriage to this fellow (, somewhat derogatory usage).”  This is a fascinating case where a wandering vahalla (bonded servant) was given the daughter of a highly respected person and, as is customary in binna or uxorilocal marriage, the man had to work for his father-in-law (māma, “uncle”). The text also says that the Rate Rala’s father gave his new relation a piece of land suitable for rice cultivation. It seems that a marriage with a lowly Sinhala was permitted, even encouraged, but not with a distinguished and wealthy Muslim. However, one must be cautious about interpreting the latter information because it was an elopement of a Muslim with a Sinhala woman of high status without parental consent.  It is hard to believe that this applied to ordinary Sinhala women because such marriages were common enough in many areas of the Kandyan kingdom, although under-represented in the Matale district. In general Muslims had little choice but to marry Sinhala women. The frequency of such marriages both in the Kandyan kingdom and in the low-country meant that ordinary Muslims in Sri Lanka tended until very recently to practice cross-cousin (ävässa) marriage, unthinkable in orthodox Islam or the neo-Islamism of the Middle East.

  1. Inter-caste marriages and liaisons. One interesting feature of M2 are references to inter-caste marriages or liaisons. There seems to be little public outrage against such affairs unlike the cases where for the slightest offense or breach of etiquette towards the king, persons are degraded as gattara villages. In general, sexual lapses were treated with tolerance in this district and I am sure elsewhere in the Kandyan kingdom. There is a reference to a vahal(bonded servant) woman (whose caste status in not indicated) who was seduced by a roḍiya man through black magic and lives with her husband and family in the Udugalpitiya Kuppayama of Udupitiya (in this case a village outside of Matale, near Veligalla).  It was perhaps a love affair that was popularly designated as a case of love magic. The term kuppāyama has always been the standard term for a roḍiya village. Another fascinating case: after clearing the tree-stumps at Goyi-ala-hena it was given to Ayittabokke Gamarala by Brahmana Rala. Because the Gamarala’s daughter was carried away by a roḍiya man, Gamarala left Ayittabokka and went up to Brahmanarala (in shame); on that day he was given the land on the other side of Linda-ala. As far the evidence of M2 suggests there was no punishment for marrying the lowest of the low which was punishment enough in Kandyan eyes. One must remember that roḍiya people were assumed to be magicians and sorcerers.  This talent is probably the reason for the following seemingly enigmatic statement: Maduvalli Subanimittā (a woman) is at the Kuppayama of Kalalpitiya (a village that still exists in Matale South,ten miles from Kandy).  “Subanimitta” literally means “auspicious prophecies” and Subanimittā is a roḍiya woman given to prophetic utterances. Such prophecies and the practice of magic in general, are one of the ways in which the roḍiya people enjoyed a sense of power of an otherwise powerless people.
  2. Coming of the Brahamanas. M2 begins with the name of an important Sri Lankan family, the Ratwattes. “Brahmana Ranmanika, the daughter of Kopuru Brahmana Rala who came from Maddadesa resides at Ratvatta” while another version adds that she is from Uda Matale (upper-Matale). Obviously the term “Brahmana” has been dropped from the name of the current Ratwatta family but this deletion tempts us to restore the genealogy of that family by going back to the first reference to them in M1 in Abeyawardana’s Sinhala edition.[20] Here we are told that six Brahmanas, along with several non-Brahmanas had come down from Madda Desa (Madya Pradesh) along with Prince Ariṭṭha in order to obtain a sapling of the Bodhi tree from the Emperor Asoka himself. Although we can identify Ariṭṭha as the nephew of King Devanampiyatissa from other sources, the mythic histories of Brahmanas listed there have no empirical historical significance and furthermore stories relating to the Bodhi tree are quite common in popular books of events (vitti pot).[21]We also know from our study of vitti pot that their references to the past histories cannot be relied upon whereas their accounts of current events are much more reliable.  Hence in my own work I have followed the rule that the latter part or the end-point of a story or an origin myth has more sociological relevance than the earlier part, the latter part gives us relevant historical information whereas the earlier part straddles us with mythic origins, in this case the improbable history of the Brahmana past. We are thus told that the following Brahmanas from their mythic past have now settled down in present-day Matale, these being:  Somadanta in Nagapattalam (not the Nagapattalam of South India), Sri Vishnu Brahmana Rala settled down in Aluvihara, Sri Rama Brahmana Rala in Ratvatta, Kotudeyya in Kotuvegedera (near today’s Matale town), Sri Danta who built a dagoba in Moneruvila (Monaravila, Matale North), Vadande Brahmana in Vabodapola (Vagodapola, Matale North), and the Shaivite Madiva Viramahesvaraya in Madipola. [22]

What the preceding investigation reveals is that there was a strong tradition of Vaishnava Brahmanas and also at least one Shaivite who had settled down in Matale during or shortly before the period of M1 but their ancestral pedigree isreinvented as coming down from the time of Asoka. It is possible for us to reasonably infer that Brahmana Ranmanika Ratvatta in M2 is the daughter of Kopuru Brahmana Rala who came from Maddadesa (Madya Pradesh), and she is also probably a descendant of Sri Rama Brahmanarala settled in Ratvattaand mentioned in M1.  M1 suggests that this Brahmana might have been an orthodox Vaishnavawhereas by M2, the erstwhile Brahmanas have become Sinhala and very likely Buddhists of the Goyigama caste even though they retained their Brahmana name. Thus M2 mentions four other less wealthy Brahmana families had also settled in the Matale region, namely Brahmanarala of Vadanda at Va-udapola (Matale North) and Sonaka Brahmana Rala who came from Maddadese at Hulangama (Matale South) while Valipattuve Brahmanarala of Kahandava in the Satkorale lives at Veragama (Matale East) and the son of Hirugot Brahmana (“gōtra of the sun”) resides at Kappetipola.  Others mentioned in versions of M2 are Ramana Brahmana-Rala of Etipola (Matale South) who now lives in Asgiriya; Sandagot Brahmana Rala whose son Galagama lives in Pahindena (Galagama, Matale South). “Sandagot” means “of the gōtra of the moon” in contrast with “Irugot,” the descendant of the sun.  The only non-Vaishnava is Viramesvaraya who now resides at Valigamvela (Matale South). We know from other sources that by 1815 during the reign of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha most of these erstwhile Buddhist Brahmanas have dropped their Brahmana names and become part of the radala or aristocratic segment of the Goyigama caste.

We now will pose an important question: who were these Brahmanas claiming descent from Madya Pradesh (Madda Desa) and had settled down in Matale?  I suggest there is substance to their assertion of origins from Madya Pradesh as long as we also recognize that different sets of Brahmanas had settled down in different parts of the Sinhala land, at various times in the past. In an important and detailed study of early Tamil epigraphy Iravatham Mahadevan documents the continual movements of Brahmins from the north of India to the South from there into Sri Lanka.[23] It seems reasonably clear that these Lankan Brahmanas were Vaishnavas who had originally come from Madya Pradesh, settled down in the South and then further south to Sri Lanka. In other words, the origins of the Sri Lankan Brahamanas from Madda Desa (and elsewhere) have a basis in reality unlike the myth of their origins in the time of Asoka.[24]

  1. The Vädda presence: the term Kōnāradoes not appear in M1 but a Konara Mudiyanse becomes a very important person in M2, the term Mudiyanse suggesting, on the face of it, that he was an aristocrat of the Kandyan kingdom. There are several places in M2 where a person or persons known as Konara Vädda are mentioned. One such named person is Konara Mudiyanse and it is almost certain that he was a Vädda chief elevated to the status of a Kandyan radalawhen, we shall see, he marries a woman from an important Goyigama valavuva. To start with we are told in a succinct statement that Konara Mudiyanse is at Pitavala; but Pitavala (Matale East) we know is in the Knuckles range and surely a home to Väddas. And in the very next sentence M2 tells us that Konara Paṭabäňdi is at Udagama (also near Pitavala) and that village contains two servants of Konara and Atipan Vädda. It seems that Konara Mudiyanse is referred to as Vädda but immediately given a title: “Konara Patabandige is at Udagama,” indicating that he is both a Vädda and a member of the Kandyan aristocracy.  Once again we must assume that a Vädda chief of some distinction has been incorporated into Kandyan political life.

We get more details on Konara’s complicated background when M2 employing a rhetorical strategy makes the king ask: “from which rata does Konara Mudiyanse come?” This is for the benefit of the reader of M2 because the king is already familiar with the background of Konara. The king’s consultants tell him that Konara is Kandulava Herat Bandara’s grandson (munuburu).  We now can infer one reason for the king endowing Konara with high title when he refers to him as Kandulava Bandarage Konara Mudiyanse, literally meaning “Konara Mudiyanse of the Bandara family of Kandulava.” It therefore seems that Konara has a double identity: he is a Vädda chief owning extensive lands in the vast area in the upper reaches of Laggala (nowadays known as Laggala Udasiya Pattuva) but he is also a scion of a very distinguished Sinhala valavuva. One must remember that “grandson” is a classificatory term which means thatmany persons can be labeledor classified as “grandson.” In any Sinhala family one can have dozens of grandsons, just as you could similarly have many other relations addressed in kin terms.  For example, ayiya and malli can mean one’s own older or younger brother but could refer to many others who are classed as ayiya and malli in one’s paternal line.  For example, my younger brother is my malli but I have dozens of patrilateral kinfolk whom I address as malli. So is it with “grandson” in the case of Konara.  If Konara had married a granddaughter of Kandulava Herat Bandara he could still be classified as a “grandson” of that Kandulava gentleman! In my view this is the relationship that our text implies when it says he is the grandson (munuburu) of Herat Bandara of Kandulava.  This may seem strange to many Sinhalas nowadays influenced by European norms of kinship but readily grasped by ordinary people in my generation. For the moment let me put the king’s own endowment of high status this way: if Konara is related to a very distinguished Sinhala aristocratic family through marriage ties and he belongs to a distinguished Vädda family with whom Sri Lankan kings in general have always maintained good political relations, then we can understand why the king endowed Konara with a paṭabäňdi (a kind of “knighthood”) by trying a strap on his forehead. Hence paabäňdi or “strap-tied” that probably endowed him with the distinguished title of Mudiyanse giving him powerful double political connections.

M2 poses has many aspects of Konara’s complicated domestic life but he does appear as a generous benefactor to some poor people. In onesuch instance he befriendsa down and out villager. “Kalu Appuva of padu-dura lineage who came from his place of birth carrying pots hung on to a pestle from Dombavela (probably Dambe, Matale East) approached Konara Mudiyanse and said: “O, lord, I don’t have any job in heaven or earth to get my food and clothing! I came to get one”.

“What is your mother’s caste?”

“Mother is a Panna (grass-cutter) woman; and my father is of vāl caste (vahal, “bonded servant”) “Sure, you can have a job. You can stay! Make your house in the land given to Kadina,” another person, the assumption being that there is plenty of land still available. Kalu Appu bore three children (uge) named Maru-punca, Nanduva and Moppuva. They were given lands in Pitavala, the Vädda home of Konara Mudiyanse, both rice fields and then extensive garden lands actually demarcated in the text.  In another case he gave an exorcist named Maha Hapu an enclosed land for the performance of his tovil rituals. Because he owned land in a remote, depopulated area in the Knuckles range Konara did require labor for rice cultivation and the opening up of his lands, particularly since the Väddas in that region were in general given to hunting, rather than rice cultivation as their primary occupation.

Part of Konara’s complicated persona is that he is a Vädda who had been “strap-tied” by the king of Kandy and yet while he is a Mudiyanse in Kandyan terms he is also a Vädda and in some ways, and like other Väddas he can act on his own independent of the king.  The following example suggeststhat he once again befriended a person who had escaped from Kandy fearful of the king’s wrath. “When (this man) was tending the royal tusker, that tusker killed a (another) man. It was decided that this happened because the tusker was not well looked after and as a punishment for this offence the elephant keeper should be beaten for a week with tamarind branches on the King’s orders”(or more likely that of his officials.) To avoid getting beaten this man slipped into the mountains and reached Konara Mudiyanse who said: “You stay here and look after the herd of cattle at Bogaha-kotuva (“enclosure of Bodhi trees”), one of the extensive areas Konara owns in his Vädda domain in Pitavala/Atanvala.  This is not an unusual case. We know from modern times that people fleeing from justice administered by the courts as late as the twentieth century could seek refuge in the Vädda country and can act independent of the official jurisdiction.

We are given an insight into the lands Konara (and probably others in his family line) owned in the Vädda country in the following example in which our Vädda lord had gifted the king with a special “white rice” harvested from the three areas of Atanvala, Pitavala and Maha Alakotuva and must have been a rare treat. (Atanvala is one of the areas we were familiar with in our field-work in Laggala in the 1960s.) The grateful king “in his kindness” gave a vast area of land “to my Kandulava Bandarage Konara Mudiyanse.”[25] What is interesting is that the king refers to him as someone from Kandulava, his wife’s paternal residence.  One must assume that these extensive lands gifted to Konara was not simply due to the provision of a special rice but rather to assure the chief’s support in the king’s wars with the Dutch and the political problems he faced with some powerful radala chiefs.[26]

Konara’s marital life is unhappily extremely complicated and I am not sure I have all the correct details.  According to M2 Konara abandoned his first wife (ahakkala) who was said to be of low caste and instead married a woman named Navaratnā Mänikā from the Kandulava Herat Bandara Valavuva.  If our preceding argument is correct then, Navaratnā is the grand-daughter of that important family and Konara through his marriage, according to Sinhala kinship classification, is the “grandson” of the Kandulava family. I presume this is a conventional diga or patrilocal marriage because Navaratnā goes to live with her husband in Pitavala in the Vädda country.

According to M2 Navaratnā Mänikā is barren and can have no children of her own. Here our text is enigmatic or incomplete and compels us to fill in the blank spaces. Navaratnā apparently rationalizes her situation by saying she could not stay with those who are not of her jāti, namely those of the Vädda jāti, with whom she has now to live.  It must have been a hard lot for an aristocratic Sinhala valavuva family.  She therefore goes back temporarily to her parental home in Kandulava and then returns to Pitavala with a girl from the berava (drummer) caste. (It seems that she does not want an adopted child from among the Väddas and her idea is to get a child from the drummer woman whom her husband Konara can impregnate and when the woman gets pregnant Navaratnā can go back to her family home, rather than stay with the Väddas). The drummer girl becomes pregnant from Konara who is at Pitavala in the Vädda country. Then without informing anyone of her decision Navaratnā took the pregnant drummer woman along with her husband Konara and herself back to her home in Kandulava. The implicit presumption familiar to Sinhalas of that time is that the pregnant drummer woman’s child would be adopted by Navaratnā and in effect becomes her own child. When Konara Mudiyanse died she sequestered her property in charge of Mivuvapitiye Gamarala. Much is unsaid in the text at this point and we have to fill in the blank space with our own admittedly speculative information. Since there is no reference to Navaratnā after this in M2, it would seem that Navaratnā also died soon after her husband’s death, such deaths by mutual infection being common at that time, particularly owing to the prevalence of foreign diseases such as the ordinary flu. Given this situation the pregnant drummer woman had no choice but to go back to her own natal village as the bearer of Konara’s child.

Now M2 clearly states that when the child begotten of the berava woman through Konara came of age, he asked his mother whether he has a father. She said you have a father and he is none other than Atanvala Pitavala Konara Patabandi Mudiyanse, giving both the Vädda and the Kandyan aristocratic titles.  The son makes inquiries and then came down to Pitavala.  He insisted that he has the right to his father’s fields and highlands. He further claimed that Navaratnā Mänikā is his mother and as a result obtained all the lands and properties of his father in Pitavala, probably because the dominant Väddas were not interested in cultivation. M2 says contemptuously that this fellow () was known as Udage Konara, “the Konara of the upper house.” The drummer woman’s son from another man then sought his brother and he was welcomed by his sibling and urged to settle down in the same village as Pallage Konara, “Konara of the lower house.”  Their real names, the text adds once again contemptuously, are accaya (of low caste) and tuccaya (little fellow). Remember that M2 is reconstructing events from public knowledge or gossip and not direct information from the drummer caste woman or her son. Unfortunately, we do not know the complicated reasons for down-grading the child of Konara from the drummer woman but the following end-note presents my own guess-work.[27]

According to M2, there were many families of both Sinhalas and Väddas in the upper-Laggala area, including nine villages (laggala gam navayayi) of presumably Sinhala people and thirty-two Mälädurugam villages, mäläduru being another term for Vädda. There obviously were many residents in this area but the text only identifies one, namely, a Vädda listed as Aṭipat [Atipan]Vädda, mentioned earlier. It therefore seems that the villages in this mountainous region had many Vädda villages but also Sinhala ones but they are not identified, either deliberately omitted or more likely simply unknown to the two protagonists of M2.  According to Archibald Lawrie writing in 1898 this whole area had become entirely Sinhala and the surrounding lands converted into tea plantations, a not untypical fate of colonialism.[28]This was so when we visited Atanavala in the 1960s when that village was exclusively Sinhala but hemmed on all sides by tea plantations.

  1. Methodological aside: a note on prejudice. The sad fate of Konara Mudiyanse and Navaratnā and the lost child prompts me to deal with the larger methodological issues in the human or historical sciences, namely our own vulnerability as scholars. On the face of it M2, and other texts as well, often contradicts our current views of right and wrong. That is why we have to place M2 in the context of the times in which it was written. Even so there are obvious biases in this text, as for example when it refers to the olias āgantuka or outsiders even though they have been living for ages as Buddhists or when some are referred to in derogatory terms as ū or . In other words, M2 as indeed even scholarly articles we write cannot escape the critique of prejudice, that is, preconceptions or prejudices that are endemic in our representations of past events be it that of M2 or our own work as social or human scientists! Neither I nor any one of my contemporary colleagues can possibly approve of the caste prejudices enshrined in M2. In my view prejudice or prejudgments, then and now, cannot be brushed aside because they are endemic to the human or historical sciences.  Many of our taken-for-granted assumptions are preconceptions or prejudices that cannot be wished or washed away.  We are not mathematicians and those given to formulas based on symbolic logic.  It is not that modern scientific disciplines are immune to criticism on the basis of imperfect knowledge and faulty judgments but that in the historical sciences we are especially vulnerable to prejudice or preconceptions. Truth unfortunately is a problematic deity. The worst kind of prejudices are among those who claim that they alone have the privilege of “truth” whereas others are the ones who are “prejudiced”! It was Max Weber who with characteristic prescience noted that our representations of the past must change with changed historical, political and other changes. This implies that only a critical and continuing examination of the past can bring to light our own prejudices and attempt at a more reasonable revaluation of events.[29]In this sense, criticism and debate are necessary and intrinsic to our work as scholars.  It is out of self-criticism and debate with others can an informed evaluation of writing history emerge. The methodological tentativeness of historical knowledge cannot be shunted aside.  I know in my own work I have rejected ideas that I formerly accepted without much questioning and this process of continual self-criticism and self-evaluation ought I think be accepted as intrinsic to progress in the historical sciences.

There is another issue that we are confronted with in reading texts from the past such as M2.  They are incomplete texts in the sense that much information is missing in them or taken for granted by its authors. There are authors but no “authorized” versions.  There is no escaping the fact that we are obliged in our scholarly critiques to fill the gaps or lacunae or what is missing or incomplete in such texts such as M2.But that leads us to a larger issue: the strategy of filling the gaps with our own judgments or prejudgments or “prejudices” is true of any work we examine or criticize which in turn leaves spaces for others to take a different stance and thereby generate responsible criticism. This should not lead to a methodological relativism because consensual knowledge is not only possible but is what we strive for in spite of our recognition of its inherent instability.

8.. The Vädda presence, continued: the Opalgala Väddas. Our discussion of Konara Mudiyanse is by no means unique because there were other distinguished Väddas in the Matale district, particularly after King Vijayapala ordered the redrawing of the district to include the new district of Opalgala.  What strikes us immediately is that in both M1 and M2 the Vädda chief of Opalgala is viewed as a Kandyan aristocrat or Bandara. I now want to focus briefly on the Opalgala family, one of whose members had been honored by King Vijayapala but in M2 another member of that family was a principal informant of Kirti Sri. M2 says that the father of Opalgala Bandara Vädda cut down a regiment of soldiers and piled up their heads on high and then with his own force went up to the Royal Palace to proclaim his victory. Although we cannot date this event it must be during the Dutch invasion of Kandy by Van Eck in 1762 culminating in the decimation of the Dutch forces under Kandyan guerilla warfare and the death of Van Eck himself in 1765. Thus given the traditional Vädda loyalty to the sovereign the scenario of Opalgala Bandara’s father is entirely plausible.  If this hypothesis is correct it would seem that M2 was written sometime after this event but before the king’s death in 1782. The grateful king in his compassion, according to M2,gave OpalgalaSenior gold coins (masuran). And in a wonderful understatement the king added he did not have anything to give poor Opalgala Bandara for “suffering” on his behalf and that he would like to give a small gift for his“rice expenses.” “I have really nothing to give my Dukkanivili Rala,” the latter term refers literally to “one who hears the king’s woes,” a euphemism for someone who has the king’s confidence (dukganivili rāla).  The king makes a neat and deliberate understatement because in fact he gives Opalgala Senior gold coins and makes him an important official, dukgannā rāla. And then the king tells him in the same playful vein: in order that you might obtain a little bit of rice I will give you some lands and then lists an extraordinary wide area for the chief’s use. Needless to say this seemingly extravagant benevolence is not entirely altruistic because, as we have noted, the loyalty of Vädda chiefs were an important political resource for Sri Lankan kings.

M2 also refers to a son of Opalgala Bandara, the king’s informant, named Hapu Ratnäka Mudiyanse who is now endowed with another royal title, mudiyanse.  The context is as follows. While this person was out hunting he spotted a large muddy area where he planted arecanuts and rice.  Having harvested the rice (the first fruits I think) he took it along with honey and venison as däkum (gifts to royalty) to the great king (mahā raja) and said, “May you become Buddha, I have come to get this muddy land for working (rassāva).” The king gave him extensive lands with a sannasa (deed of gift), including the area where he had cultivated arecanuts, Puvakpitiya, “the field of arecanuts.”  What is especially interesting is Archibald Lawrie writing two hundred years later mentions the tradition that “the original settler [of Puvakpitiya] was a Vedda named Hapu Ratnekala. He first planted arecanut trees.”[30]It seems that Vädda chiefs were not only hunters by profession but also, under proper incentives, some became cultivators and by this time had Sinhala aristocratic names that helped ease their way as members of the Kandyan aristocracy.

The evidence suggests that the Opalgala clan and their descendants dominated many areas of Matale during Kandyan times and its heads were at one time rajas or minor kings within the larger kingdom of Kandy. Thus the Bandara Vädda, the king’s “consultant,” is a rāja as far as his own locality in Opalgala is concerned but treated as a Bandara or aristocrat when he is with the king!  My assistants and I visited Opalgala and met the current members of that clan and they were fully aware and proud that their ancestors were rājas, Vädda kings. Lawrie also records the tradition of a Vädda king of Opalgala who married the daughter of a Sinhala king, Vira Prakramabahu.  I would I think that would be Narendrasinha (1707-1739) who was also known as Vira Parakrama. This was long before M2 but after M1, that is, between the first and second Matale boundary books. There is nothing unusual in such a marriage designed to create an alliance with a dominant dynasty, Vädda or otherwise, albeit as a secondary queen or yakaḍadōli in contrast with the chief queen or queens, ran dōli, a symbolic contrast between the inferior iron and the precious gold. K.D. Paranavitana in his authoritative translation of Journal of Spilbergen, the first Dutch envoy to Sri Lanka in 1602, mentions a similar alliance by Vimaladharmasuriya I with the daughter of the Tamil king of Batticaloa. Spilbergen with his palanquin, his goods and his men went to the home territory of the Tamil king two miles upland and met his daughter the queen who was “a consort of the King of Candy.”[31] This lady conducted the general and his entourage to Bintenna which also housed a grand palace of Vimaladharmasuriya.  In our own field work we were told of the tradition of Rajasinha II who was also married to a Vädda woman. David Shulman shows the widespread existence of this model of marriage in South Indian kingship as a means by which the king through his spousal connections established relationships with those outside of his immediate circle, in this case in the periphery of his kingdom, bringing the periphery as it were in relation to the center. Vimaladharmasuriya creates a spousal alliance with the Tamil king of the East Coast and very likely it was so with Narendrasinha (and possibly Rajasinha II) with Vädda chiefs.[32]

Needless to say we have given only a sampling of the data in M2 but much of it contains very brief snippets of information while there are lengthier pieces that I have not interpreted.  I now want to briefly relay once again on issues based on the comparison of M1 and M2.  M1 had a list of powerful Väddas who are ignored or sidelined in M2.  The reason is simple.  M1 mentions certain aristocrats who could not be trusted but we noted that it does mention the model of a new set of Sinhala aristocrats to take their place.  That model is a crucial one adopted by all Kandyan kings, namely, while the king is supreme head, the kingdom itself is based on notable aristocrats who controlled the various provinces under the king’s authority.When the king’s new officials are established in M1, the districts of Matale would no longer be controlled by Väddas but by the king’s radala officials. The frontiers have to be reset and in M1 the Väddas formerly in charge the frontier villages had to give place to the king’s officials who now have that role. In M2 we do hear of Väddas but they have moved into back into their forest homes or have become Sinhalas or have settled down in other areas.  An interesting case is that of Baju Mahage who in M1 had overall control of a large area in the Hunnasgiriya range but in M2 a descendant of that person and having the identical family name has settled down in Digampitiya.  She had supplied mats and baskets to the king and the grateful monarch it is said granted her an area from the district of Vagapanaha, a division of Matale North (on the current Matale-Dambulla road). Another woman Devakirti Mahage was given lands from Melpitiya, two miles from Nalanda, from the very area she had controlled inM1. One must remind the reader not to be confused by the identity of names from M1 to M2 because names among Väddas as well as Sinhalas, often move across generation. A full complement of Väddas as well as the many castes in M2 must await future research.

Concluding remarks

I hope that the preceding account will tempt Sri Lankan scholars to follow the pioneer work of Abeyawardana and others to further pursue the huge number of vitti pot and employ modern critical scholarship to edit and translate them.  We noted that our boundary books gave us important information on caste and that sexual and human relationships were not tightly regulated in the Kandyan kingdom except in relation to kings who were vulnerable to pollution.  Caste and ethnicity were important but not as rigidly enforced as might seem in theory, witness the cases of a lacquer worker and a Muslim elevated to high status as Mudiyanse or Muhandiram.  Perhaps caste was less rigid than British endogamy in the early period of colonial rule in Sri Lanka. The role of Väddas it seems to me to be particularly important owing to foolish attempts to prove they were “aborigines” or ancient residents (ādivāsi), both recently invented terms that had little or no relevance to the Sri Lankan past. The Väddas were professional “hunters” but some were cultivators and were highly regarded although they were not Buddhists.  Professional hunting was deemed a non-Buddhist activity although the flesh from the hunt could be eaten by Buddhists and this included royalty. Some Buddhist did hunt but that was not their professional role. We have in this essay provided some insight into the long term movement from Vädda to Sinhala. It would be a mistake to paint Väddas in European and colonial terms as “primitives.” Lawrie mentions the tradition of highly regarded Väddas in his account of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The word mahā or chief or a similar term were sometimes attached to their names indicative of persons of importance, as for example Huwan Kumaraya, “Noble Prince.”[33]One important feature of Vädda identity is that they were not a “caste” and they totally eschewed caste distinctions except among those who have been Sinhalized or in the process of moving from Vädda to Sinhala. Unfortunately, the drastic population decline of Väddasthat occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries must await a further long term study.


[1]   I am deeply grateful to my colleague Punchi Bandara Meegaskumbura for his translation of one of the Boundary Books composed in the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinha and I have used parts of his translation “shamelessly.” My assistant H. G. Dayasisira has always been a good resource helping me with many translations and locating difficult place names and above all questioning my interpretations.  For the most part I have abstained from the use of diacritical marks except for the case of “Vädda” simply because that term has been loosely and variously employed.

[2]   The two editions of Abeyawardana I use are as follows, H. A. P. Abeyawardana, Kadaim-pot vimarśanaya, Colombo: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1978.  This is my primary resource. The English translation that colleagues might want to use is Boundary Divisions of Mediaeval Sri Lanka, Polgasovita: Academy of Sri Lankan Culture, 1999.

[3]   For Matale 1 I will rely on Abeyawardana’s edition in Kaḍaimpot Vimarśanaya.  M2 is sometimes listed as the Laggala Kaḍaimpota, (“the boundary book of Laggala”) because it was copied by a man from Ilukkumbura in Laggala.  This is a bit of a misnomer because it is basically another version of the second Mātale Kaḍaimpota and it is reprinted in our series no. 4 entitled Banḍāravaliya hā Kaḍaimpota, Colombo: Godage Brothers, 2005, 102-20.  We also have an important copy of this text from H. G. Rana which we will also use.

[4]   The text we employ is from Bandāravaliya hā kaḍaimpota, edited by Ananda Tissa Kumara, Colombo: S. Godage, 2005, 102-20.

The person who put down the original version in writing is listed as Punchi Appuhami of Siyana Korale resident in the village of Hisvalla. This is also true of the Rana version and both versions mention that these are based on information given by Opalgala Vadi Bandara and Kaduvela Rate Rala.

[5]   See: Chandra Richard de Silva, The Portuguese in Ceylon 1617-1638, Colombo: Cave and Company, 1972, 55.

[6]   Ibid., 70. Unfortunately, we have no information on their descendants, if any.  Perhaps the marriages were simply formal alliances. De Silva’s information comes from Portuguese sources that require further verification.

[7]   For the sad life of Vijayapala see: P. E. Pieris, Prince Vijayapala of Ceylon, 1634-1654, Colombo: C. A. C. Press, 1927

[8]   L. S. Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom 1638-1739  in History of Sri Lanka, vol. II, K. M. de Silva, editor, Peradeniya: University of Peradeniya, 1999, 184.

[9]   It should be remembered that Vijayapala was in English terminology a “half-brother” but “brother” in Sinhala and Tamil usage.  In Sinhala a distinction might sometimes be made between siblings born of a single womb and those born of another womb.

[10]  Nine major officials are mentioned and I refer to Abeyawardana, Boundary Divisions, 215 for the full list. However, note that the Matale Maha Disava was presented the Sun and Moon flag. This is really the flag of the Four Korales that Vijayapala seems to have appropriated after his failure to capture this important province. I am inclined to believe that the latter portion of this work which deals with the capture of the fort of Trincomalee is a later event juxtaposed with the more important section on Vijayapala in reorganizing the Matale district.

[11]   It is unfortunate that this boundary book like others of this genre does not give us any information on how long back into Matale history can we trace these particular Vädda groups.

[12]   Our text says that he was “raised to kinship during the month of Asela 1122, on a Thursday” but this text as well as others of the same genre does not give us accurate chronological details. However, these dates are closest to the Islamic calendar but we have yet to compare them with the Moroccan calendar for this period.

[13]   Cūlavaṃsa, 99: 167 and 100: 228

[14]   They are well described in Abeyawardana, Kaḍaimpot Vimarśanaya, Chapter 4, 71 f; and 68 f, in the English version.

[15]   For example: Uḍangamuve Pokune Gamarālat [and] Halu Appullana Hēnaya de siṭiti, Vattēgama Raṭerāla de, Dasanāyaka Rāla de, Nāranpanā Gamarāla de siṭiti; Siyambalāgaha Tänne Rankot Peḍiyāge Kōnam Haluvā de siṭiti [washerfolk]; Mārukona Marakkala Mudiyanse siṭiti; Udupihille Polukāra Mudiyanse siṭiti; Hapuvida-īvadu [lacquer] Muhandiram [a navandanna is elevated]; Vähigala Nāvaragoḍa Malvatte Duraya sititi; Halanvela Rāla Halanvela sititi

[16]   Bim bara literally means “an earth tilting multitude” such that when a huge number of people are involved the flat earth might tilt. It is a metaphor that simply means a huge number. The reference to Oli in M1 is in Abeyawardana, Sinhala edition, p. 226 and the English edition, p. 213.

[17]   Another text, the Rāvana Rājāvaliya, a boundary book given to folk etymologies of villages, says that the Dumbara pansiya pattuva was so named because a king known as Vijayabahu settled here five hundred persons from Soli rata! To confuse matters another text, Meraṭa Kaḍaimpota that repeats much of the Rāvana Rājāvaliya, says that the king was named Jayabahu.  It appears that while the dominant colonization myth mentions Gajabahu as the anti-Cholian hero, he could be substituted with two other “strong arm” heroes with names like Vijayabahu and Jayabahu, both meaning “victorious arm.” (See Rāvana Rājāvaliya, 36.) However, neither Rāvana Rājāvaliya nor Meraṭa Kaḍaimpota mention the victory of Gajabahu over the Soli king although it is possible that that was part of the implicit knowledge of the authors of the two texts.  Meraṭa Kaḍaimpota is found in our collection entitled Rāvana Rājāvaliya and the particular reference is on p. 52.  Both Rāvana Rājāvaliya and Meraṭa Kaḍaimpota contain folk etymologies of districts in Sri Lanka and while we may discount the folk etymologies, the account of the districts, if not the numbers of inhabitants, show a remarkable familiarity with them.  Both begin with Ravana, who lived in an era, before the Buddha and whose evil ways lead to part of the land around Mannar being submerged in the sea, another version of the Atlantis type myth.

[18]   Unfortunately, we are not told what karuṇā eliya means.  It could refer to an asylum within the king’s own palace domain or perhaps in an extended sense to a sanctuary where the king’s law does not operate. It seems there were special sanctuaries where people could seek asylum.  Buddhist temples during certain historical periods did offer similar sanctuaries. This word is not in any of our dictionaries but we have come across karuṇā eliya and related terms in our fieldwork in villages the Uva-Vellassa region. A parallel word is karuṇādhipati vāsala, a similar place described in the Rājāvaliya  where Mayadunne, after the killing his father sought asylum. Ibn Battuta writing in the mid-fourteenth century mentions a similar institution among the Hindu kings of Malabar. He says that at the boundary of each ruler there is what he calls “the Gate of Security of such and such a prince.” It is a sanctuary for anyone who flees from one ruler but manages to enter another ruler’s “gate of security.”  H. A. B. Gibb, translator, Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354, London: Routledge, 1953, 232. This section in Battuta as far as I know is the first account of matrilineal descent in Malabar. “The rulers of these lands transmit their sovereignty to their sister’s sons, to the exclusion of their own children.” Ibid.

[19]   H. W. Codrington in his Glossary of Native, Foreign and Anglicized Words, New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1996 [1924], defines Marakkala thus on p. 34: “From the Tamil marakkalan, a skipper.”

[20]   Abeyawardana, Kaḍaim Vimarśanaya, 224-25

[21]   Mahā-Ariṭṭha is not identified in M1 but we know from other sources that he as a nephew of Devanampiyatissa and was sent to Asoka soon after the former ascended the throne. Asoka conferred on him the title of Commander-in-chief (senāpati). See: G. P. Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, vol. II, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1983 (1937 reprint), 462 for details.  What is striking is that M1 takes for granted the background of Ariṭṭha which indicates some knowledge of his actual background.

[22]   Abeyawardana, Kaḍaim Vimarśanaya, 224-25. All the Brahmana villages can be identified and their current backgrounds discussed in Lawrie’s Gazetteerunder the relevant headings.

[23]    Thennilapuram, P. Mahadevan, “On the Southern Recension of the Mahābhārata, Brahman Migrations and Brahmi Paleography,” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, (EJVS), 2008.

[24]    For a detailed discussion of the role of Brahmins in Sri Lanka, see my paper “The coming of Brahmin Migrants: The Sudra past of an Indian elite in Sri Lanka,” in Society and Culture in South Asia, vol. 1, no. 1, January, 2015, 1-32.

[25]    Because these lands are difficult to identify, I shall simple state them there: from Galkata-patana, Hulanvatigala, Agunagala, Malkiri-patana, Karavatiya, Udamoragala, below Gonakala-tanna and Atikehel-patana, including wet and dry lands by a royal grant on Tuesday the seventeenth of the month of Vrishabha (May-June), one thousand one hundred and twenty-ninth year of the Saka Era. The dates in these texts however cannot be relied upon.

[26]    I have documented the king’s conflicts with both the Dutch and his own radala chiefs in an unpublished work “Murder in the Cathedral: the conspiracy to assassinate Kirti Sri Rajasinha by monks and aristocrats in 1760 CE,” paper read at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies” (Kandy) on 29 October, 2014.  I shall be happy to email a copy of this paper to interested scholars.

[27]    M2 badly downgrades the later Konaras by suggesting that they are really low-caste drummers when is seems reasonably clear that Navaratnā did legitimately get her husband Konara to have sexual relations with a woman of the drummer caste in order to have a child to perpetuate her own lineage from her own Kandulava radala family.  Unfortunately, both Konara and Navaratnā had died before any adoption could be publicly recognized.  If the child had lived while Navaratnā was still alive it would have been recognized through adoption as her own legitimate child and in this case even as the product of her own womb, not at all unusual in Sinhala custom. Because both Konara and Navaratnā seemed to have died before the child was born, M2 for some reason or other poses the question of legitimacy that never occurs otherwise in M2.  It seems Konara has had a bad press in M2 and we have to discount the idea presented in the past of Konara Mudiyanse that he had married (pāgat) a woman from Huduhumpola and that because his wife was lowly he discarded her and married Navaratnā.  It is extremely unlikely that Navaratnā who belonged to a distinguished valavuva would have married a man who had just discarded his low caste wife whose caste connection is not even specified. While much of Konara’s background is public knowledge, there is also, it seems to me, a denigration of Konara Mudiyanse.  M2 does not provide answers to this question but because one of the king’s consultants was Opalgala Vädda it is possible that the denigration of Konara was based on hostility between these two leading Vädda families, although this is guess work on my part. It is just a misfortune that Navaratnā died before Konara Junior was born.  Konara Junior in M2 says that his mother was Navaratnā, a half-truth which is of course a half-lie! There were other distinguished members of the Konara family mentioned in M2 but it seems that they too have become members of the Kandyan aristocracy or on the way to become Kandyans. We do not know whether they continued to have relations among the Väddas of the region of Pitavala and Atanvala.

[28]    Archibald Campbell Lawrie, A Gazetteer of the Central Province of Ceylon (excluding Walapane), vol. 2., Colombo: Government Printer, 1896, 502.

[29]    There are many important works on the nature of prejudice but I refer the reader to a major work on the subject, namely, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, New York: Continuum, 1975. For an early and brilliant work on this subject see Max Weber, “Science as a vocation,” in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, New York: Oxford, 1946, 143 (129-56).

[30]     Lawrie, Gazetter, 752.

[31]     K.D. Paranavitana (translator), Journal of Spilbergen, the first Dutch envoy to Ceylon, 1602, Dehiwala: Sri Devi, 1997, 27.

[32]     David Shulman, The king and the clown in South Indian myth and poetry, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

[33].     Lawrie, Gazetteer, 744.


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